MS Westerdam Alaskan Explorer Cruise via Glacier Bay to Juneau, Sitka, Prince Rupert, and Victoria Embarkation Date: Seattle - 08/20/2006 Disembarkation Date: Seattle - 08/27/2006
It has long been a dream of my sister to enjoy an Alaska Cruise and had decided that this would be the perfect way for her and her husband to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. My brother and I, veteran cruisers, would join them. When searching for itineraries, my sister found the "Quilting for Christmas" cruise sponsored by Quilt Camps at Sea. Since my sister is an avid quilter, this would combine the sights of Alaska with her favorite hobby. Because of this targeted cruise, we didn't really explore other cruise lines and routes and went along with the group.
That said, I can't say enough good things about the Quilt Camp organizers. They were very helpful in handling any and all requests and coordinating things with the cruise line. (For past cruises I have More
used a major internet agency and have been very happy with the services and prices I've received, but that's a separate topic altogether).
So our group consisted of 4 adults in two cabins (8032 & 8030). As I have developed mobility problems over the past few years, the travel agent suggested that we would be more comfortable with a handicap stateroom with a standard adjacent verandah cabin. We were able to open the partition between the two verandah's throughout the cruise allowing us to have a very large balcony to use in enjoying the Alaskan views.
As for past cruises, we sailed together as a group to the Eastern Caribbean on the NCL's SS Norway several years ago. My brother and I have sailed a Mexican cruise on NCL and 3 Caribbean cruises on several of Princess' Grand Class ships.
Since we were all flying from different cities, we flew into Seattle the day prior to the cruise and scheduled our flights to meet around the same time.
After collecting our luggage we had arranged ground transportation to our hotel and the cruise port the following day with Airport Direct Shuttle (airportshuttledirect.com). They have an option of using a Chevy Suburban instead of a standard limo which was able to accommodate four "plus size" adult passengers, our 8 pieces of luggage and my large bariatric rollator walker.
Our efficient driver dropped us the pre-cruise hotel we had arranged, the Best Western Pioneer Square (pioneersquarehotel.com). This historic refurbished hotel had a good location for taking in some of the sights of the pioneer square area including the Seattle Underground tour and many interesting shops including the famous Seattle Mystery Bookstore. A number of good restaurants are within short walking distance from the hotel. The hotel offered a continental style breakfast with the room. Unfortunately the hotel is very small and the breakfast area was not well stocked and was quite crowded. Given the close proximity to any downtown hotel to the cruise ports and price of this "boutique" hotel, I would probably invest in staying somewhere more mainstream and up-scale if we were to do this again.
On the morning of the cruise at the cruise terminal porters were a bit hard to flag down from our shuttle. (This contrasts to the Princess dock in Ft. Lauderdale where there were so many luggage handlers they practically fight over customers to get tips.) Once inside the cruise terminal the "expediters" recognized that both my sister and I needed handicap assistance and had us wait in a special "chair-line" for people who can't stand in their feet. This is really nice, but not surprising since HAL has a reputation for catering to senior passengers.
The expediters were very nice and bar stewards from the ship walked around serving cups of water and juice to passengers as they waited in chairs and lines to check in. There was a bit of discussion with the expediters and the terminal folks to determine if they had the correct size of bariatric wheelchair to assist me in embarkation. Unfortunately they did not, and after a rather long wait I was required to walk up the exceedingly long gangway to board this ship. My sister, who can use a standard wheelchair was taken directly on board and assisted directly to the lido buffet for lunch. My brother accompanied me in the long walk and we met up with them at the buffet about 20 minutes later). Bottom line - the accessibility of the gangway in Seattle is fair-to-poor for people with physical challenges.
Our VA Class verandah staterooms were located on the forward port side of the ship quite close to the forward elevator lobby. Our stateroom, 8032, was a handicap room which provided ample space for movement around the room with the minimum 30" clearance around all fixtures and doors. This means that my rollator walker could be pushed basically anywhere in the room, into the lavatory, or through the door and out onto the verandah. The accessible lavatory had no tub but an integrated shower, toilet, vanity area with very efficient floor drains that generally kept the toilet/vanity area dry when the shower curtain was pulled. Handrails, the ADA height toilet, and fold-down shower stool were all extremely sturdy and well designed. The hose on the hand-held shower was somewhat worn which caused it to "kink" when held in some positions. One towel hook was broken on the door of the lavatory and our stateroom door also failed to close completely automatically requiring us to check the security of the door each time we entered and left the room. Although we didn't complain about either of these items, our cabin steward must have reported them because they were both fixed mid-cruise.
The handicap stateroom contrasted with the adjacent standard stateroom in that the standard room was about 30% narrower allowing for very little room to pass at the foot of the bed. The standard room included a sofa seating area while the handicap room had two chairs and small dining table. The standard stateroom lavatory was just slightly smaller and had a tub with shower in the tub. Lavatories are equipped with toiletries from the Steiner spa's Elemis lines that are very nice. Unfortunately it did not seem that items would be replenished throughout the cruise without specifically asking the room steward. (On past cruises, new toiletries were presented each day). Both rooms were equipped with a dressing table and 19" television and a mini/bar refrigerator. We brought 4 12-packs of diet coke on board in separate luggage bags checked just for this purpose and emptied the mini-bars into the bag and replaced it with the coke.
We informed our cabin steward the location of the mini-bar items. One disappointment was that we had to reset the mini-bar ourselves and did not have use of it during the last day of the cruise as it is locked for inventory the first thing in the morning on Day 6.
One thing I will commend HAL on, which has been noted by others, is the beds. These are the most comfortable beds that I have experienced on any cruise ship. Being a linen "snob" I recognized and appreciated that high-thread count linens were used on the bedding, also adding to the extra comfort. The beds have an integrated drawer at the foot which is used by the room steward to store extra blankets, etc. So they are unavailable for guest usage. Despite that, behind the drawer area there is room underbed for luggage storage. This is a good thing because the two closets provided were quite small.
In comparing the stateroom with the standard balcony stateroom on the Princess Grand Class ship, I would say that the handicap room was approximately the same size as the standard Princess room and the standard room was considerably smaller.
Ship Layout / Public Rooms
The Westerdam has three elevator lobbies with quite fast elevators. The forward and aft elevator lobbies each have four elevators with a coordinated "call" system. (Pushing the call button will bring any one of the four elevators.) At midship there are 6 elevators. Two scenic elevators each on the port and starboard sides and two central internal elevators. The call buttons are coordinated only with the elevators at the specific area, even though they share the same "lobby". The scenic elevators only had access to decks A - 9, while the central mid-ship elevators accessed deck 10 as well. One of the challenges of any ship is figuring out which elevators go to which levels.
Public rooms are found on Deck 1 - The Main Deck, Deck 2 - Lower Promenade, Deck 3 - Promenade, Deck 9 - Lido and Deck 10 - Observation.
On Deck 1 public areas are limited to the central atrium area that houses the atrium bar, front desk, and shore excursion desk. The Atrium area on the ship which extends across three levels (Deck 1,2 and 3) is actually quite small. It is really somewhat difficult to look down from Deck 3 to Deck 1 and see anything. This contrasts with Princess' Grand class ships where the area, despite also being only 3 levels, seemed very open and inviting. This is all due to the fact that the Vista-class HAL ships are significantly narrower at mid-ship than the similarly sized Princess Grand Class ship. This creates all sorts of problems across the entire ship with the size and feel of public spaces.
The forward area of Deck 2 is dominated by the Vista Lounge (the "show theatre"). This is really confusing to a lot of passengers since the theatre at the forward area is called "Vista" and the dining room at the aft is also called "Vista" (i.e. Vista Lounge vs. Vista Dining Room). The main floor of the Vista Lounge is quite accessible. I really like the fact that HAL has chosen to use primarily banquet seating over the tiny theatre style seats used exclusively on Princess. When I traveled on Princess my "girth" forced me to use a barstool at the very back of the theatre whereas I could have sat nearly anywhere in the Vista Lounge - a big plus. The large theatre has excellent sight lines on Level 2. The balcony on level 3, however, is obstructed in numerous areas by support poles creating "dead zones" in the seating and annoying people who get "stuck" sitting there.
The next area aft on Deck 2 is the casino/piano bar area. The casino is quite small and smokey. One plus is that HAL has one night designated as "non-smoking" night in the casino for those who are bothered by the abundant smoke in that area. The adjacent piano bar is strangely decorated in an off-putting yellow and purple motif but offers different types of music being played each night. I really liked the small, but upbeat sports bar that followed that area. Next forward is the Queen's Lounge/Culinary Arts Center. No culinary presentations were scheduled in the center during our tour, but I did see the really bad looking kitchen set (you'll see better stuff on the food network). The room is also really small for the types of shows and events that are scheduled there. I went to Digital Photography seminar there that packed the room. A late-night comedian show held later in the trip was standing room only and the dance floor was filled with cheap folding chairs. Really "un-elegant". They also showed movies there during the week, but the movie times and titles were difficult to find. This room is also very inaccessible for people in wheelchairs or requiring a mobility device. The aisles are very narrow and once you get to a place where you can "park" your device you can't sit in it because it will block an aisle making any programming in this area unreasonable for handicap passengers.
Directly behind the Queens lounge, with entrances on either side, was the flashy Northern Lights disco/bar. I really didn't explore this area so can't comment on its decor or how it was used.
Half of the atrium level on deck 2 is used for the Windjammer Cafe which servers at-cost coffee and smoothie beverages along with "free" pastries and confections. The remainder of the atrium is contains the Pinnacle Grill and Bar. This area was actually pretty large for a premium dining venue, but the fact that it takes up more than 1/2 of the atrium area and is closed much of the time really limits what could be a very attractive useful public space.
Continuing back across deck 2 is the Art Gallery where featured Art and the office of the Park West at Sea art auction is located. If you transact any business at the daily art auctions that monopolize the Ocean Bar on Deck 3 most days, you'll go here in the evening to "close" your deal. Beyond that is the Explorer's lounge. A less "gaudy" version of the Piano bar on the same level. What strikes me most about both the Piano Bar and the Explorers lounge is how HAL has chosen to make these long narrow spaces instead of large square spaces. Again, it adds to a claustrophobic feeling that dominates the entire ship and makes featured entertainment events like "team trivia" difficult for the entertainment staff to administer because they have to walk from one end of the space to the other to see participants. It also makes these events less interactive with the other passengers because you really can't see all the people you're competing/playing the games with.
The aft part of decks 2 and 3 are dominated by the Vista Dining room. This two-story area houses all of the tables for the standard-assigned dinner seatings on the Westerdam. We had the first seating in the Upper (Deck 3) Portion of the dining room as did everyone else in our "Quilting" group. I'll discuss dining more later.
Of course the outside of Deck 3 - the Promenade deck, is the place where you can walk around the entire ship on the teak promenade and view the ocean from the various deck seats and lounges that line the promenade. Moving aft from the balcony access to the Vista Lounge you will find the conference rooms (where the various sewing classes for the quilters where held), the Internet Center, and the Java Cafe. The Java Cafe is normally another "Coffee House" like the Windjammer on the deck above, but because of the quilters using the conference rooms this was used for the various computer classes that are normally held in the conference rooms. Nearby you will also find the Erasumus Library. This attractive room is rather large compared to other cruise ship libraries and has nice well lit desks and comfortable seating. Next up are the "Signature Shops" which offer the various duty free items that are common to cruise ships.
Since the shopping area encroaches on the normal pathways to the atrium, it becomes pretty congested at night and really forces you to "shop" if you are traversing the deck. The good thing about the shops is that the prices and service are very good. I bought a wonderful Citizen watch which the staff gladly sized to my large wrist with extra links and got a better price that a similar watch I purchased at a shop in St. Thomas a few years earlier. My sister also bought a very lovely ring at a reasonable price. What is strange about the shops is that they didn't seem to have an area selling sundry type items I've found on other ships (simple medicines, sewing kits, tissues, candy, etc.)
The Deck 3 Atrium was dominated primarily by the Ocean Bar which was used almost exclusively for the Art Auctions. Again, this limited egress around what would normally be rather attractive public space, but that was all cleared out in the evenings. The standard photo gallery lined the area from the Atrium to the upper level of the Vista Dining Room on Deck 3.
The forward area of Deck 9 is dedicated to the Greenhouse spa which offers the standard Steiner suite of services and a "thalasso therapy" pool which could be used only with an extra cost subscription from the spa. (This contrasts with the Lap Pool and Saunas on Princess Grand Class ships which, while located in the spa, are accessible to all guests without an additional fee).
The central pool area follows with tables lining both sides and a retractable cover which is, of course, closed during Alaska trips. This makes gives the area the standard pool "chlorinated" smell. While I did not use the pools, it is my understanding that the pools on HAL are saltwater as opposed to the Freshwater pools used on the Princess ships. What did impress me about the central pool layout was that it did seem like it would be relatively easy to use if you had limited mobility. The pool did not have the wheelchair "dipper" found on the Princess ships for passengers with no mobility, and pool entry was not "zero depth". What was different than other pools I have seen is that rather than using "climb up" pool ladders, access to the pools was done with teak steps that were wide like standard stairs and you could descend down to the shallow end of the pool without the need to "pull" yourself up a ladder.
The port side of the pool features the Ocean grill which has a taco/mexican bar and a hamburger/hot dog/pizza station. On the starboard sid of the pool is the pool bar.
Following from midships toward the aft on Deck 9 is the Lido Buffet which offers identical service areas on the Port and Starboard sides. The final aft area is the adult pool which is open to the aft of the ship and is for "adults only" and is uncovered. This area was not used frequently for the Alaska itinerary because, well, its just too cold.
Deck 10 is the home of the Crow's Nest lounge. This is a very large space with the best forward views from the ship. It is dominated by a large dance floor and a small bar on one side and bandstand on the other. Banquet seating extends around the sweeping windows and tables also arc the dance floor. It is notable that only this bar and the pool bar are the only bars that are consistently staffed both day and evening. Slightly aft from the Crow's nest lounge is the clubby Oak Room which offers an indoor/outdoor cigar bar atmosphere and is apparently pretty popular in the evenings. Most of the rest of Deck 10 is an observation deck with deck chairs and lounges and great views. At midships the elevator will take you to the area where the "Club HAL" activities for younger cruisers are found.
There are basically five choices for dining on the Westerdam - Main Seating dining in the Vista Dining Room, Specialty Dining in the Pinnacle Grill, Buffet Dining in the Lido Cafe, Buffet Dining in the Ocean Cafe by the Pool, and Room Service.
The Vista Dining room is open for Breakfast, Lunch, and High Tea with open seating. The hours for table service of breakfast and lunch are quite limited with breakfast being served only from 8 - 9:30 and lunch for 12 - 1. Since these times conflict with many activities, it makes the dining room service of these meals almost completely impractical. On Princess we really enjoyed dining room breakfast, but could only make the limited hours once on the Westerdam during the trip. In the dining room we found the breakfast service to be very spotty. Passengers were seated at the very farthest end of the dining room from the door and the breakfast menu was actually quite limited, and extremely poorly executed. I ordered eggs benedict which was topped with less than a teaspoon of cold hollandaise sauce on each runny poached egg. My brother ordered a sausage and cheese omelette and was served a cheese omelette. Pointing out that it was incorrect, the dining steward brought him a plate of 4 brown-and-serve style sausages over 30 minutes later. The selection of danishes and pastries were unappetizing and sub-standard. Toast was served cold. Later in the day all three of us (my sister was in sewing class and did not eat breakfast in the dining room) experienced different levels of abdominal distress which we attributed to the poor preparation of breakfast.
We rarely eat lunches while cruising, sticking mostly with a breakfast and the dinner feasts. On the couple of occasions where we did eat lunch we made selections from the lido buffet. The buffet meanders with different stations stretching from midships to the aft pool area. There really isn't one concentrated buffet but really 5 separated areas labeled "italian", "bistro", "dessert", "salads", and "deli". To create a meal you literally may need to walk in and out of dining areas to access each of these station all while carrying your tray. This is a nightmare for disabled passengers, and there was spotty service from the servers in this area to assist people. To prevent ship-bourne illness, the buffet stations are cafeteria style requiring that each selection be individually served and plated by the staff. At peak hours this creates long lines congesting an already poorly designed setup. Since I found it difficult to traverse the entire width of the dining area to view the selections I basically only ate salads that I could describe to my family member how to configure with common ingredients.
On our evening in port at Juneau our shore excursion returned too late for us to make it to our standard dining room seating so we were forced to eat at the Lido for dinner. We didn't think anything of it since we had read that there was an area in the Lido that was dedicated to table service for those who did not want to follow the dining room dress codes. When I asked the dining captain about that advertised policy I was told that "that didn't work out so we don't do that anymore". So we could not have the standard dining room selections and ate the lido selections for the evening which were (drum roll) the same courses served in the dining room the PRIOR evening. We basically had the same dinner (pretty decent prime rib - but the same thing) that we had the night before. My sister had the spaghetti from the italian station which she found quite delicious.
Breakfast and lunch, when we did have lunch, were relegated to room service. Room service breakfast is ordered from a card you place on your door the night before. There are no other breakfast options (the room service menu refers you to the card). You check off what you want for a selection of fruits, breads, cereals. The only hot choices were fried eggs or omelettes and a choice of ham, bacon, or sausage. Has browns were not listed as a selection, but if you ordered any "meat" you got one Arby's-style potato cake tossed in if you wanted it or not. For lunch, dinner, or snacks you could call from the room service menu. Any request that was not on the menu is automatically denied. Example: My brother-in-law wanted a tuna salad sandwich on wheat bread. The menu had a "tuna melt with cheese". Basically he wanted it with no cheese unmelted. The person taking the order said it wasn't on the menu, but he'd ask the chef.
Over our time on the ship we placed approximately 10 - 12 room service orders between our two rooms. Every single order, whether it was written on the breakfast request card or phoned in, was delivered with wrong or missing items. Hot items were invariably cold. Cold items were invariably warm. "Delicious Hot Cocoa" consists of a pot of hot water and packets of swiss miss for you to mix yourself.
The star of the culinary experience on the Westerdam was dinner in the Main Dining room. In general you could get all you wanted of (with one big exception) expertly prepared food.
The dishes tended on the blander side and our table was mysteriously absent of salt or pepper every night (we'd have to ask for it). For a "fixed" seating venue it took our waiters longer that I'd experienced on previous cruises to get our preferences down (like the fact that we wanted salt & pepper on the table). By the third night coffee, iced tea, or sodas as each preferred were waiting. (I mean it is nice to have someone note these preferences and execute them, but when you've been on other cruise lines where the waiters ask about this the first night and are able to follow through on nights 2 - 7 makes it noticeable that it took the waiters until the third night to do the same which seems a little "off" to me). In a bit of a change, the wine/bar steward at dinner was really attentive - going above and beyond the call of duty. This was the first time in 5 cruises where I thought the wine/bar steward actually deserved an extra tip.
As I mentioned before, the food itself was uniformly good. The portions were uniformly small - but you could always order extra helpings of anything that appealed to you. The only major problem we had was with the lobster at the "Farewell Dinner". One of my sister's two lobster tails was raw. I'm not talking undercooked, mind you, but actually raw - the shell had not changed to its signature red color and the lobster flesh was still somewhat translucent instead of white it should be when it reaches the minimum level of doneness. This should have been noticed by the line chefs or the waiter and serving it was not only unappetizing once the lid was lifted off the plate, but could have been very dangerous if eaten.
In other areas bar service was sorely understaffed. It seemed impossible to get a waiter to bring you anything, and if you decided to use your "coke" card, forget being served again. They seemed keenly aware that the best service should go to the people drinking the most expensive items. So even if you wanted to switch from a "coke" to a "Long Island Ice Tea" you couldn't do it because you had coke first. Its just bad form. On our past Princess cruises we purchased the "coke card" which consisted of a sticker attached to you cruise ID that entitled you to unlimited fountain drinks. On HAL they issue you a punch card for $18 good for 20 servings. Your card had to be punched each time you were served. Since we actually purchased the card on the gangway all the servers were "turned off" that they couldn't get the spiff on the first day for selling the card. I used my punch card 4 times because I couldn't get servers to assist me. That basically means I paid $5 a piece for fountain beverages. This entire system may just be problematic because of differences between Caribbean cruises (where people drink lots of fruity stuff all the time and they need lots of servers) to an Alaska Cruise (where you're just as likely getting someone asking for cocoa or coffee as you are the occasional bar drink).
Cruises provide a variety of outlets for entertainment. The most visible are the splashy vegas-style shows that are held in the theatre venue (the Vista Lounge in the case of the Westerdam) to more intimate shows or performers in the various lounges and bars. Entertainment can also be found in activities directed by the Cruise Director and his staff including hosted board games, trivia games, dancing lessons, lectures, etc. Warm weather cruises also feature a variety of pool-centric activities.
The glue that holds entire entertainment staff together is the Cruise Director and the way he or she motivate their staff. The Westerdam's cruise director, Steve Gayda, was by far the worst cruise director of any cruise I have taken. He was visible only at the large events as the brief host and I never, ever, saw him mingle with passengers on the ship. This is the first cruise (and mind you there were much larger passenger counts on my previous voyages) where I never actually met the cruise director in person at some point during the voyage. He was virtually invisible, along with his staff.
Our favorite activity during cruises is to participate in Trivia and "Game Show" events. On both Princess and NCL these were hosted at least twice a day by enthusiastic cruise staff. On the Westerdam, the once-a-day trivia events were treated like "chores" by the entertainment staff. In fact each of the trivia sessions were about 25% repeats of questions from previous sessions. The staff did nothing to generate enthusiasm about the event or to foster camaraderie among the passengers. I do have to make one notable exception, which is the cruise staff member Mike Soprano who ran the trivia on the last day of the cruise. He knew how to work a crowd and researched interesting and unique questions. You can tell he really likes his job, unlike all the others who acted like bored camp counselors.
The sailing included two "vegas-style" production shows entitled "Grand Tour" and "Stage and Screen". These were very entertaining shows which made the most of the elaborate staging available in the Vista Lounge. The singers and dancers were very good and seemed to enjoy their jobs. There was also a performance by a Comedian/Juggler, a Comedian/Magician, and a Featured Singer. The Comedian/Magician also hosted what was billed as a "bawdy adults only comedy show" late one night in the congested (as mentioned before) Queen's Lounge. Despite the "adults only" moniker, the short, amusing (not hilarious) show was more of a PG-13 affair than the "R-Rated" program it was billed to be.
Again, we were really disappointed with the number a variety of entertainment options compared to previous sailings, but then I can't be sure that these weren't toned down because of the many affinity groups that were booked on the cruise with their own agendas. In addition to the Quilters, there was also a large group of "Senior Bachelors" and "Nursing Professionals" that were holding their own events throughout the sailing, perhaps monopolizing venues that might have been used for normal activities.
With the lack of the types of activities that we normally frequent, we did choose to attend an art auction, which we usually avoid. This was actually pretty interesting, although I was surprised at the high price of the pieces shown. (They averaged $1000 up for starting bids). I did locate one serigraph I would have liked which was actually reasonably priced. Unfortunately for the HAL cruises all pieces are sold framed as displayed. I hated the frame on the piece and would have to buy the existing frame and have it re-framed at additional cost. Since framing is a good portion of the cost of the art I didn't feel that it was fair to pay for two frames and chose not to make a purchase. The auction did include free champagne, snacks, and if you stuck around to the end you had an opportunity to win some pretty substantial gift certificates. Each person also received a very nice signed lithoserigraph.
To keep track of all the events available on the ship a daily schedule was printed and delivered with the nightly turn-down service. While informative, there were numerous typographical errors in every edition often listing events at completely wrong times or in incorrect locations. On Day 4 included frequent references to the next port being Ketchikan, while this sailing substituted Prince Rupert for Ketchikan.
Ports of Call
Day 1 - Sea day. Nothing to see but sea and some land. It was very foggy and cool on the decks. Make sure you've got some warmer clothes for your Alaska trip!
Day 2 - Cruising Glacier Bay. It started out with an overcast morning and early in the day as we entered Glacier Bay the ship was board by a US Park Service Naturalist and a Native American Cultural representative. These people provided cruise narration throughout the day that could be heard on the outside decks and verandahs. We were very lucky because as we approached the first of many glaciers the sky cleared up and we had the rare beautiful sunny day to view everything. It was spectacular! The vistas were breathtaking. When we approached the highlight of the tour, the 2-mile wide 800-foot high Marjorie Glacier I was amazed at how we passed remarkably close to the face and were able to hear the roar and see the splace of ice calving from the face of the Glacier which moves 8 feet per day and constantly regenerates from its mountainous confines. Absolutely awe inspiring! I would highly recommend an itinerary that includes Glacier Bay.
Day 3 - Juneau. Here is the deal about Juneau which you find out from the natives when you get there. Average temperatures are from the 30s to 60s year round and it rains constantly. There are only 44 clear days per year, and by clear they mean these are days when it doesn't rain -- it doesn't mean it gets sunny which is even more rare. So our day in Juneau was one of their very rainy and windy days which resulted in many disappointments for people with helicopter-based shore excursions which don't fly if the winds or rains are too extreme. (The floatplane trips did apparently still fly). Fortunately for us we opted to take the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest tour run by Allen Marine. After about a 20 minute bus ride north of Juneau with an excellent driver to explained all of the local sights we boarded a modern comfortable and accessible tour boat to view whales, sea lions, and bald eagles. The tour promises that you will see at least one whale or your money back. This is easy to do because the bay is the seasonal feeding ground for humpback whales. Our very lucky tour allowed us to see nearly a dozen whales. We were able get a rare sight of a mother and calf humpback in addition to a group of 4 adults who did a "synchronized swim" for us that was amazing! We also saw an island covered with cute sea lions and bald eagles perched off in the hills. This tour was really wonderful and I'd highly recommend it.
Day 4 - Sitka. Sitka has shallow docks, so tendering is required to visit this port. Because of this, only my brother and brother-in-law chose to go ashore. They enjoyed walking around the city and visited the Raptor Center choosing to walk there instead of taking the shuttle bus.
Day 5 - Prince Rupert. This itinerary substituted Prince Rupert for Ketchikan which was the normal port. Prince Rupert is a really small cannery town located at the very northern part of British Columbia. Since the town is not a big cruise-ship port, it had some additional charm by having more local artisans and fewer "tourist" type places.
Day 6 - Sea/Victoria. Again, because of the distance from the ship to transportation I did not go ashore after dinner in Victoria. The rest of the party did, however and really enjoyed their short time in what appears to be an extremely beautiful city.
Day 7 - Disembarkation.
Disembarkation was relatively smooth since we were in the first group going ashore. We chose to rent a car and do some independent touring of Seattle prior to our red-eye flights home to Detroit.
The trip was extremely worthwhile due to the fabulous sights in Glacier Bay and Juneau. The staff of the Westerdam was generally friendly, but overall service and food quality was spotty and inconsistent. Public areas of the ship while generally attractive, are poorly laid out and lack good accessibility. Excellent dinner selections were marred by sub-par breakfast, lunch, and lido-buffet services. The entertainment and cruise director staff were aloof and less friendly than previous cruises. Unless you are part of the affinity group (as we were) I would find it hard to recommend this HAL ship when there are other options in this competitive market. Less